Take your assessments online

Katherine McEldoon and Emily Schneider

If your preference is to use a traditional summative exam, these research-based tips can make the online experience better for you and your students.

Young girl on laptop

Here are some research-based tips on how to make the online assessment experience better for you and your learners

Create clear and specific rules and instructions so students know exactly what to do.

  • Online assessment is new for your students. Reduce anxiety by clearly communicating the rules and instructions before the exam so there are no surprises. For example, if you would like them to write their essays in paragraphs or to show their work for problem sets, be sure to explicitly state this.
  • The rules may include how many opportunities students have to complete the exam, if they can or cannot save and come back later to finish, if they need to put away all mobile devices, and whether it is an open or closed book exam.
  • Provide other details such as the list of learning objectives the exam will address, how many questions to expect, the amount of time they will have to complete the exam, how many points each question is worth, and so on. A study guide or a practice test can also help your students prepare.

Reduce the opportunities for cheating

  • Password protect your exam and limit students to one login attempt.
  • Require students to complete a statement of honesty before beginning the exam (this can be done through a digital form or added as the first item of the exam).
  • Open and close access to your exam session within a predetermined time period.
  • Shuffle items or create multiple versions of the exam to randomly assign to students.
  • Create a pool or item bank to pull random questions from (many platforms allow for this and most learning management systems.
  • Ask students to justify or explain their answers by adding an open response field after each selected-response question.
  • If you don’t have the capabilities listed here, use more open-ended question types instead of true/false or multiple-choice questions.

Make sure students can reasonably complete the exam within the time allotted

  • Unless you are assessing how quickly your students can complete the exam, allow them ample time to complete it. It is important to keep in mind that your students don’t know the knowledge and skills as well as you do, so be sure to cushion each item with more time than you would expect to take to complete it yourself.
  • If possible, have an assistant or colleague proofread your exam before it is time to administer it.

Align your exam questions to learning outcomes

  • Regardless of whether the exam is online or on paper, if you are creating it from scratch, make sure you use the objectives as your guide as you develop the questions.
  • Determine which types of questions or items best reflect the learning objectives. For example, if the objective requires a student to critique a poem, then an essay question would be a more logical and efficient choice than a multiple choice question.

Base scoring and point values on the complexity and difficulty of the questions

  • For instance, if you have a multipart question, consider assigning partial credit for each part of the question if the system allows. For math or science problem sets, allow students to show their work such as by sending in a photo of their workings or describing the steps they took to solve a problem or complete a process.

About the authors

Katherine McEldoon, PhD
Katherine is a Senior Research Scientist at Pearson. Trained in cognitive science research labs across the country, she has worked to connect insights from the science of learning to educational practice throughout her career. Katherine earned her PhD in Cognitive Development and was an Institute of Education Sciences’ Experimental Education Research Fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. Her postdoctoral work at Arizona State University centered on a research partnership between The Learning Sciences Institute and ASU Preparatory Academies, incorporating a theory of active learning into middle & high school teacher pedagogy. Since then, she has continued to bridge research and practice outside of academia, working with educational technology start-up companies, state governments, and more. Katherine firmly believes in the power of enabling educators with insights from research and incorporates this mindset into her work at Pearson.

Emily Schneider, PhD
Emily has spent more than a decade researching and designing learning experiences for higher education. As a Senior Learning Designer at Pearson, she helps product teams create effective and engaging digital learning experiences at scale. Emily believes that we should take advantage of technology for what it offers but never forget the power of the embodied human experience. She holds a PhD in Learning Sciences and Technology Design from Stanford University.

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